Ann Arbor-based urban flower farm Common Garden will launch a series of artist residencies with writer Jeanne Hodesh hosting free writing workshops in the garden at 302 Mulholland St. every Sunday for six weeks starting Sept. 5.
Common Garden co-founder Mitchell Newberry says he lived with friends who were urban farmers when he was going to grad school in Philadelphia. When he moved to Ann Arbor to begin teaching at the University of Michigan, he was inspired to turn the two extra lots that came with his house into farmland.
"The two lots can't be built on because there's a creek running underneath them and it's in a floodplain, so this land has a really unique value for agriculture," Newberry says. "It's really close to downtown and places like Argus Farm Stop, and usually land that's close to an urban center like that has so much value for development that a farm couldn't survive."
He put the word out to friends, neighbors, and people he met at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market that he was open to proposals for what to do with the land. He was surprised when two women who are now co-founders of Common Garden, Liz Tylander and Kat Shiffler, proposed turning it into a flower farm.
"At first, I was unconvinced about flowers. I thought we should be growing food, because that's what farmers do," Newberry said. "But now, I'm completely won over to flowers."
That was in part because Tylander, who is also a registered nurse, is interested in using flowers for physical and mental health and is on the board of the Michigan Horticultural Therapy Association
In 2019, the three co-founders gave away all their flowers, making bouquets and delivering them to friends and family, or inviting neighbors to come by to pick their own flowers. They heard that others had found success with a community-supported agriculture (CSA) model and decided to try that out in 2020, charging members $150 a year to pick as many flowers as they liked, and capping memberships at 10.
"Then the pandemic happened, and we had a lot of time to work on the garden," Newberry says. "The garden became an outlet for us and a lot of different people in the community, and we doubled the size of it."
The three co-founders put up a public kiosk with hand sanitizer, clippers, jars, and buckets of water for visitors. They didn't ask for donations, but visitors started a tip jar. Between those donations and the money coming in from the CSA, the farm had money left over. Mitchell, Tylander, and Schiffler decided to put those funds toward establishing an artist residency program.
"The community has given us back a lot in terms of help, tools, and revenue," Newberry says. "We're grateful and want to pass it on to someone else."
He says he was struck most by proposals that aimed to involve the community, which is why Hodesh (who is also a contributor to Concentrate) was chosen as the first resident. Her weekly writing workshops from 10 a.m. to noon each Sunday are free and open to the public.
After Hodesh's residency ends, Newberry says he plans to bring in a Chicago-based photographer who wants to take pictures of the way visitors interact with the plants.
For more information about Common Garden or its CSA program, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at email@example.com.
Photo courtesy of Mitchell Newberry.